Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Monash University Library Electronic Resources Directory

Lisa Smith describes a system which can be used to help people locate the electronic resources of Monash University Library

The Electronic Resources Directory [1] of Monash University Library is a tool specifically designed for locating the electronic resources of the Library. As such, it both provides information about these resources, as well as direct links to them where appropriate. Its coverage extends to those resources which are deemed to be “electronic” in format (excluding kits of which the electronic medium is only one part e.g. a disc accompanying a book) and are catalogued by the Library. The Technical Services Division of the Library has been cataloguing a wide variety of electronic resources for some time, ranging from the by now customary CD-ROMS and diskettes, to online services, electronic journals and monographs, and, more recently, WWW sites. As catalogued resources, these items all qualify for inclusion in the Electronic Resources Directory of the Library. The nature of the Directory, then, is to act as a format-specific subset of the more comprehensive library catalogue, Sesame2 (PALS). It is intended, as described on the Monash Library Home Page [2], to be “the fast track to Monash Library’s electronic resources”. The Electronic Resources Directory is the final outcome of what was initially known as the Virtual Shelf Project, which began with the writing of an Issues Paper by the then Network Librarian Deidre Lowe in mid-1996. The impetus for the Project was a desire to achieve greater bibliographic control over, and improved access to and publicity of, the Library’s growing number and range of electronic resources, comprising online services, networked and stand-alone databases, electronic journals, etc. [3] This type of material poses new challenges for all types of libraries, with non-conventional formats and modes of access proving problematic for traditional mechanisms of control.

Like many other university libraries, Monash was faced with a burgeoning array of such materials, with only an out-dated printed index to guide users to specifically electronic resources as a supplement to the Library catalogue. The need for more than an updated printed guide was apparent, as was the requirement for ongoing, largely automated maintenance of the end product in order to avoid repetition of the current situation. It was also apparent that individual Branch Libraries were increasingly using WWW pages to both publicise and provide links to a wide range of electronic resources, often replicating effort across the Library in a non-systematic approach.

With this in mind, and desiring that staff and students, regardless of their physical location, should have ready access to information about the electronic resources of the Library and links to those resources where possible, the WWW, via the Library’s site, seemed the obvious home for a new electronic resources locator. Further incentive for a Web-based solution was that Sesame2 had such an interface in existence already, and was widely used by staff, students and the wider community for remote access to the Library catalogue [4]. It was envisaged that the Virtual Shelf Project could ultimately reduce the need for individual branch maintenance of electronic resources information on the WWW, and could produce html documents (e.g. title lists) for branch library home pages.

The Issues Paper, presented by Deidre Lowe in September 1996, recommended the establishment of a database, from which could be generated Web pages and various reports as required. The cornerstone of this databases was to be the Library catalogue, Sesame2, from which desired fields would be taken to create database records. These would then be enhanced with additional fields or information of relevance to users seeking access to the Library’s electronic resources. Given this utilisation of the catalogue record to create the basic database record, non-catalogued resources were automatically excluded from the database. Thus, there would still be a need for Branch Library WWW pages to indicate sites “of interest” to their users, or to point to short-term trials, such as those run by CAUL [5]. Further recommendations included some changes to the Library catalogue to enhance overall control over and access to the electronic resources of the Library.

Prototype Database

Subsequent to this report, a group of staff [6] worked on the creation of a prototype set of 10 electronic resources records, and related changes to the Library catalogue records. A series of meetings were held during which decisions were made about the specific MARC fields to include in the database record [7], additional manual entry fields to be included [8], and resource type categories which should be used [9]

Part of the prototype development involved consideration of the potentially various methods of access to the electronic resources information of the Library - a typical scenario for a large, multi-campus university such as Monash with a diffuse user population - and that it be meaningful to users regardless of the method of access. In keeping with this aim, changes were made to the catalogue record with a view to achieving greater uniformity in the cataloguing of electronic resources, to the specific advantage of users limited to remote telnet access to Sesame2 only.

Screen Image of Librarianship section

Figure 1: Screen image of Librarianship section

Firstly, a decision was made to use “electronic resource” as the location for such resources in the searchable call number field of the catalogue record. Secondly, it was decided to display MARC field 259 and not the 856 field, including desired URL information in the former field and not displaying the myriad URLs often contained in field 856 as a shared data field. Both of these decisions directly reflected a desire to reduce the confusion often associated with access to electronic resources, and to simplify the provision of information to only that which is deemed useful to users of Monash Library services. Telnet users would, then, be able to search via call number on “electronic resource” to retrieve such records, and note the URL or other electronic location of the resource. In the absence of WWW access, these users would not, of course, be able to directly connect to the resource, where applicable.

The second method of access to the electronic resources records would be via the WWW interface version of Sesame2. Again, users would be able to search via call number on “electronic resource”, with the advantage of direct access to appropriate resources from a hypertext-linked URL. It was decided to provide this link from both the catalogue record (since it needed to at least appear here for telnet users to view) and the new electronic resources record. Users of the WWW Sesame2 interface would simply click on a “More Information” button at the bottom of the catalogue record to retrieve the electronic resources record containing additional information for such resources to that provided by Sesame2.

The final mode of access to electronic resources records would be via an Electronic Resources WWW home page, which would offer not only searching but also browsing by subject category [10], resource type, and other browsing options as appropriate. It would also be possible to link back to the Sesame2 record from the electronic resource record for a particular resource, as the system would be able to automatically link the record number from one record type to the other.

Early November saw the launch of the 10 prototype records, viewable via the Sesame2 WWW interface. A Web site entitled “Electronic Resources Database” was launched in mid November 1996, from which Library staff could also view the prototype product and component records.

Electronic Resources Directory

Following extensive feedback from Library staff, including branch staff and those involved in reader services, work progressed on the requirements of the fully fledged system. A number of staff offered quite critical responses to the prototype and, indeed, to the overall concept, which hopefully enabled a better final product to be developed than would have otherwise been the case. Important areas of concern, of relevance to all libraries contemplating such projects, were the need for a separate database at all, and the related question of maintenance.

Clearly, there needs to be sufficient justification to break away from the library catalogue as the one, central repository of information for the resources of any library. The mere fact of resources being in a different, and perhaps newly fashionable format, here “electronic”, is not in itself sufficient cause for such a move. However, at Monash it was felt that the advantages of fast-track, succinct access often to the actual electronic resources themselves, coupled with a more centralised approach to the provision of information about these resources, were sufficient to warrant the creation of a supplementary resource locator to that of the library catalogue.

These advantages were, however, predicated upon the equally important need for both minimal human intervention in the creation and ongoing maintenance of the database and a reduction in current work by Branch Libraries on such information provision via the WWW. As far as maintenance requirements are concerned, the team involved in both the prototype and the fully-fledged project were very conscious of the need for automation wherever possible, and minimal extra work where it was not.

To this end, the interlinking of records by bibliographic ID number between Sesame2 and the electronic resources database was paramount, enabling minimal human intervention through automated, periodic updating of both systems. This automatic linking of catalogue and database record data by the bibliographic record number would also allow for non-synchronous input of data, to be later automatically linked by this mechanism. Thus, cataloguers, whose role it would be to input the resource type and subject descriptor database record information, would be able to complete this activity at the point of cataloguing, rather than having to revisit the electronic resources database record after its creation from the Sesame2 catalogue record. Similarly, the branch notes and subject librarians comments fields, these to be completed by specific staff within individual branch libraries, could be added or amended as required, again using the bibliographic number of the record concerned. The adding and updating of all such fields would be completed via a Web page interface, where a combination of simplicity of design and use of drop-down menus to minimise typing, would also minimise the amount of work needed to maintain the database. A list of new titles added to the database, again displayed via the WWW home page, would further assist staff to efficiently update the database.

It was perceived from the outset that Technical Services staff are clearly in the key position to play a fundamental role in the ongoing maintenance and development of the system, with not only cataloguing staff involvement but also that of specific staff within the Division involved in electronic resources activities. Indeed, involvement of staff across the Library is intrinsic to the continued success of the enterprise, from the ongoing targeting of new electronic resources, and forms of these resources, for inclusion, to effective communication between staff in Reader Services areas and Technical Services and Systems Support areas.

During the final stages of system development, it became apparent that the Library would be able to offer WWW access to its networked (basically CD-ROM and diskette) resources, a service hitherto not available, which would greatly enhance the application of the Electronic Resources Directory and “global” access to these resources by Monash users. It was decided that such networked resources would be referenced from the electronic resources record with a URL created for direct access. It had also been decided to add direct linkage to resources, where applicable, from the Directory listing, obviating the need for users to go to the electronic resources record unless they specifically sought further information. “GO” and “I” buttons were subsequently created to this effect on the WWW Electronic Resources Directory home page. The direct linking to networked resources is still under development, but it is envisaged that, ultimately, the only resources listed which will not have such capability are the non-networked, stand-alone resources of the Library.

Following these several months of further work on system details and database content, during which time some 170 additional records were added to the database, the Electronic Resources Directory was officially launched in early March 1997.

System Details

The Library’s PALS catalogue, entitled Sesame2, is the key component of the Electronic Resources Directory. It is from the catalogue that the basic directory entry and record is constructed, to be enhanced by manual intervention where appropriate. It is also this interrelationship which enables a user who has searched the WWW version of Sesame2 to directly link to the electronic resources record for that resource, and vice versa.

Resources to which a location of “electronic resource” is allocated by Technical Services are automatically tagged for inclusion in the Directory, with pre-determined data, from specified MARC fields, being drawn from Sesame2 at defined intervals (roughly fortnightly to coincide with catalogue updating, although more frequent updating of the Directory may be desired in special cases). During the cataloguing process, and thus prior to the records appearance in either the catalogue or the Directory, cataloguers are able to key in the PALS bibliographic record number and then select “resource type” and “subject descriptor” fields for later incorporation into the directory record. The means of achieving this subsequent automated matching of information is the bibliographic record number, which is the device used to match data retrieved from Sesame2 with information manually added by Library staff. Non- Technical Services staff are able to add branch specific notes fields (containing such details as pointers to further assistance, hypertext links to help screens on the WWW, etc), as well as a much shorter subject librarians comment field (this last field appears only in the list of short titles, not in the record itself).

The original concept was for the creation of a separate database, using a software package such as Microsoft Access, from which html documents could then be produced and mounted on the Library’s Web server. However, following creation of the prototype, and during development of the fully operational system, it was decided that the WWW would suit the needs of the Library without the additional creation of a separate database. Effectively, this decision removed the need for an intermediary step between the database and the Web front-end of the system, whilst remaining unchanged for staff interacting with the system who, it was anticipated from the beginning of the prototype development, would use WWW pages for such activity.

Future Developments

The Electronic Resources Directory is an ongoing development of the Library and, as such, is in a similar state of flux to that of the Library catalogue. It is also true that a substantial amount of retrospective work needs to be completed by Technical Services staff during 1997 to accurately reflect the current electronic resources of the Library. It should be added that priority is given to new resources, with this retrospective activity supplementing the ongoing cataloguing of new resources rather than replacing it temporarily.

The use of the WWW for the Directory has obvious advantages for a University where global access to resources is a key issue. As noted above, the development of WWW access to networked resources is continuing, and is a key initiative for the Library as a whole. It is also true that, with the use of the WWW, comes far greater attention from the wider library and university community, thereby necessitating the need not only for these activities to be seen to be successful, but also for a professional look to such “front-end” services. With this in mind, a short-term goal of the staff involved in the Project is the appointment of a professional designer to enhance the “look” of the Directory to users, wherever they may be located. Ideally, this will see a marrying of informed and relevant content with an elegant, professional image.

The Library is also increasing the profile of the WWW Sesame2 interface, most noticeably by replacing telnet only “dumb” terminals with PCs in branch libraries. These PCs not only use the WWW interface for the catalogue but also allow full functionality of the Electronic Resources Directory via the WWW. Potentially, it is anticipated that the Directory may ultimately replace other forms of database interface currently used within branch libraries, although this will be a staged process. Clearly, the desire for both “one-stop shopping” and a common user interface will continue to drive such projects both at Monash and in other University Libraries.

Project Information

Further information about the Project may be had by contacting Lisa Smith, or for system details, Sue Steele, of the Library. Judy Boyle and Joan Gray of the Library’s Technical Services Division may also be contacted for technical services related information [11].

References and Footnotes

  1. Electronic Resources Directory Web Site,
  2. Monash University Library Web pages,
  3. As noted previously, and in keeping with the decision of the Issues Paper, resources such as CD-ROMs accompanying other material are excluded from the Electronic Resources category.
  4. See Web page below for Sesame2 via the Web
  5. Council of Australian University Librarians
  6. Staff involved with the Project, including development of the Prototype and the final system, were primarily Lisa Smith, Sue Steele and Judy Boyle, with extensive input from Joan Gray, and Stephanie Foott. A wide range of other Library staff were also consulted during the various phases of the Project, and provided additional input to the Project’s development.
  7. MARC field and subfield tags included in the database records are: 059; 100; 110; 245 (a b n p); 259 (g); 505; 508; 520; 546; 580; 650; 651.
  8. Ultimately, it was decided to include the following additional “manual entry” fields in the database records: Resource Type Subject Descriptors; Branch Notes; Subject Librarians Comment.
  9. The following Resource Types were finally decided upon, although as with the subject descriptors, these are subject to change over time: Databases; Electronic Books; Electronic Journals; Non-networked Resources; Web Sites.
  10. The subject category field is additional to the LCSH fields also included in the electronic resources record, its use being to offer a broad spectrum subject approach to access which would complement the narrow, specialised focus of LCSH. Ultimately, the descriptors were structured around the Monash Faculties and Departments, thereby offering a distinctly “Monash view” of the world of our electronic resources. Reader services staff, led by Stephanie Foott, largely compiled this listing, which is subject to change as the need for new or amended categories arises.
  11. Contact Details

Author Details

Lisa Smith,
Information Services Librarian
email: lisa.smith@lib.monash.edu.au
Tel: 613 990 51516
Address: Library, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton, Victoria, 3168, Australia